Pitti Uomo 101 opens with grinta, Baldinini, AlphaTauri and Caruso
They may be letting unvaccinated tennis players into Australia, but here at Pitti Uomo 101 in Florence, Covid passes are obligatory, each entrant is temperature checked, and everyone wears a PPF8 masks.
No one is making a fool of anyone at Pitti Uomo 101. The Tuscans, a serious people, have imposed strict health measures for the latest edition of the giant menswear salon that is the world’s best organized fashion fair. All exhibitors, buyers, editors and organizers are respecting the rules at this Pitti, where several vans of Carabinieri are parked outside the entrance to the fair.
Despite the never-ending pandemic, some 540 brands have taken space inside the Fortezza da Basso, the nerve center of Pitti. And the monumental medieval fortress felt respectably busy on Tuesday, the opening day of the three-day fair.
Menswear brands may have been buffeted by the lockdown and braced for very tricky times, but judging from the stands many have of them have been remarkably busy in their ateliers.
Call it a season of grinta, that Italian word denoting fighting spirit when the going gets tough, esprit de corp in difficult times.
Like Baldinini, the north central Italian shoemaker that unveiled a brilliant collection designed by Arthur Arbesser, the quirky and ever cool Austrian-born, though Milan-based designer.
“He’s our injection of alien cool DNA into our company,” enthused Christian Prazzoli, CEO of Baldinini, a brand from the Romagna region.
In a courageous one-shot, Baldinini invited Arbesser to reimagine their whole collection and he responded with must-have ideas. Known for his use of gestural daubs and designs in his own prints, Arthur used hand-drawn ink prints in a fantastic series of pony-skin Chelsea boots; snazzy brothel creepers; chunky sneakers for men and women and even some great uber light down blousons.
In another series Arbesser played with geometric patterns in naïve sherbets with knubby sneakers and chunky boots.
“It’s been fun to work with such an historic brand that really gives you carte blanche. And to invent with a company that insists on making high quality products,” said Arbesser of the 111-year-old label.
Last year, Baldinini scored sales of 50 million euros, but hopes to revive to its 2019 figures in 2022, meaning sales of 65 million.
The brand has 120 stores, with 35 directly owned – spread between Italy and Russia. And also plans to open a further 10 directly owned stores this year. With sales spread 55% women, and 45% men; and 95% of all production made in Italy, about a quarter of which is done in Baldinini’s own plants.
The brand is still owned 40% by founder Jimmy Baldinini, though the majority is held by private equity.
Next step, Prazzoli promises “an American guy” will design the house’s next collection. “You will have to come back next season to find out!”
One other hyper luxurious marque that is not setting on its laurels is Caruso, which presented a collection inspired by the legendary jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis.
“Miles was artistic and innovative as well as always naturally elegant, which sums up the Caruso DNA,” explained Marco Angeloni, the CEO of the classy marque.
Just as Miles reinvented his musical form with chamber jazz to jazz rock, Caruso reinvents sartorial architecture – by using Mongolian horsehair and the wool of male Mongolian camels to create the gentlest of interior layers that “memorize” the shape of its owner yet remain remarkably light.
Caruso also whipped up marvelous modernist double-breasted jackets made of whisper light – yet also resilient – Japanese nylon. Though its gutsiest idea were a series of excellent off-duty jackets in dusty yellows and violets made of Tencel, sourced from eucalyptus trees.
“It’s taking the refuge of the timber industry and giving new life in fashion,” explained Angeloni, pointing to the subtle finishes of each jacket, like hand-made boutonnieres finished with silk thread.
And, if the ghost of the great Miles ever returns, there were a pair of triumphant silk jackets in Garden of Eden jacquards. Sketches of Spain chic par excellence.
Pitti also keeps attracting paradigm busting new brands like AlphaTauri, the latest off-shoot from Austria’s most famous brand, Red Bull.
Founded in 2016, AlphaTauri is a very much a purveyor of original ideas, like its truly intriguing new Heatable Capsule collection technology, where an app allows you to set the temperature of your jacket on mobile phone. Uncanny, but true.
“We’re a 100% spin-off of Red Bull. No one in the market needs another fashion brand. So, our concept is be a disruptive and innovative company. It’s always been a dream of our owner (Dietrich Mateschitz) to own a fashion brand,” explained CEO Ahmet Mercan of the Salzburg-based brand.
His proof – 3D knits; parkas incorporating car seat materials; or cotton membrane, water resistant fabrics.
Aesthetically, the look is “futuristic acoustic,” said Mercan. That said, the clothes are a tad serious, with the practically for which Austria is known, but perhaps not enough of the polished panache of the country’s capital.
However, its impressive stand did have plenty of flair, located in the main square of the Fortezza. It turned out to be an expandable truck container which grew to be a 60-square-meter pop-up. Posed on hefty screw-stills it recalled Mies Van der Rohe’s iconic Farnsworth House.
“If you want to compare us to Mies we’ll definitely take that!” beamed Mercan.
AlphaTauri now boasts three Austrian stores; will open a boutique this spring in London; sells via its own e-commerce site in 90 countries; and is in talks with MatchesFashion and Farfetch.
With multiple shows cancelled due to Omicron, there were few life events in Florence, but at least the city’s most famous boutique – Luisa via Roma – did unveil a novel new partnership with Cassina, a blend of artisanal skill and fresh technology.
Rather like, well, Pitti 101 itself.
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